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Leading global institutions come together to address rising death toll on the world's roads

For the first time, representatives from more than 20 of the world's leading road safety organizations representing rich and poor countries, are gathering at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva to embark on a global road safety initiative.

"This is the first gathering of many of the most influential players in the road safety field, from victim associations, foundations, the automobile industry, and ministries of transport and health," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. "Combining such diverse expertise in road safety and taking action will help to reverse the unnecessary death toll on the world’s roads.”

More than 1.2 million people are killed on the road annually. Millions more are injured or disabled. In some low and middle income countries, road crash victims occupy up to 10% of hospital beds. Deaths from all types of injuries are projected to rise from 5.1 million in 1990 to 8.4 million in 2020 - with road traffic injuries as a major cause for this increase.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted in his recently released report “Global road safety crisis”, that "Improving road safety requires strong political will on the part of Governments," adding that countries should also "aim to ensure that sufficient resources are available, commensurate with the size of the road safety problem in their country."

Globally, estimates suggest that the economic costs of road traffic injuries amount to US$518 billion per year. In developing countries, the costs are estimated to be US$100 billion, twice the annual amount of development assistance to developing countries. To mitigate this global public health and development crisis, Mr Annan recommends that countries develop and implement national strategies on road traffic injury prevention and appropriate action plans.

"When you lose a child, you die. The mourning never stops. The pain is constant," says Rochelle Sobel mother of a victim, and founder and president of ASIRT (Association for Safe International Road Travel), a United States based non-governmental organization. Sobel, a participant at the meeting, stresses that "while the emotional toll of loss is horrendous and cannot be quantified, the economic toll on families and governments can be calculated and it is devastating." Studies suggest that in 2002, some 50% of road traffic fatalities worldwide involved young adults aged 15-44 years, many of whom were primary breadwinners for their families.

Those gathering at WHO today are preparing a global initiative dedicated to Road Safety, to be launched on World Health Day (7 April 2004). The initiative will include a global report, conferences and discussions in political fora such as the United Nations General Assembly, and other high profile advocacy events. As part of this effort, the alliance will drive a call for action to implement policies and programmes addressing speed reduction; alcohol consumption; re-enforcing the utilization of seat belts, helmets and child restraints; improving emergency response systems; promoting safe vehicle design; and introducing the implementation of road safety standards.

*ASIRT, Association des Constructeurs Européens d'Automobiles (ACEA), Centro Nacional para la Prevencion, CSIR Transportek, Economic Commission for Europe, European Federation of Road Traffic Victims (FEVR), Fédération Internationale Motocycliste, FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society, GRSP, Institute for Traffic Care, International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies, Ministère de la Santé, de la Famille et des Personnes Handicapées, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, NHTSA, Task Force for Child Survival and Development, The World Bank, TISPOL Organization, Trauma and Rehab Services Oman, University of Malaysia

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For more information contact:

Ms Laura Sminkey
Telephone: +41 22 791 4547
Mobile phone: +41 79 249 3520
E-mail: sminkeyl@who.int